Autoweek magazine’s ubiquitous reporter Mark Vaughn once encapsulated the entire Baja 1000 experience by writing “every Baja 1000 is a million stories.”
For any racer, crew member, fan or race official, that observation sums up exactly what it’s like to participate in desert racing’s oldest and most prestigious event. As they have for the past 50 years, those stories will be told around this week’s Thanksgiving tables then retold around countless cold beers for years to come. Nothing about racing at the BFGoodrich SCORE Baja 1000 is easy, but it all makes for some of the strongest memories this life has to offer. That’s Baja magic.
These stories could fill a coffee table book, but for us there were some that really stood out – as much for racing as providing a look at our collective humanity. Enjoy!
ROD HALL’S 50/80
The only human to have raced in every one of the Mexican/Baja 1000s held since 1967, Rod Hall celebrated the 50th anniversary race – as well as his 80th birthday – in the only appropriate manner. Overcoming the challenges brought about by his fight with Parkinson’s disease, Hall ended his racing career by joining son Chad and longtime friend Frank DeAngelo driving his team’s Hummer to a victory in the SCORE Stock Full category. It was the perfect ending to a long and storied career. As Hall declared after the race, “Hopefully this is my last one and I think that every good time comes to an end. I’m going to be 80 years old and I’m worn out. I’m not quite like the Hummer that you can put new tires on and be ready to roll. It has been a good run and it’s important to me for my last race to have a win.”
CLASS 10 SHOCKER
Not since Steve Sourapas and Dave Richardson rocked the off-road world with their overall victory at the 1985 Baja 1000 driving a 1,650cc Volkswagen-powered Raceco has a limited class team accomplished so much. The Class 10 category for limited powered open-wheel buggies is always a dogfight, but a “dream team” of Cody Reid, Adam Pfankuch, Brian Bowles and Sammy Ehrenberg not only dominated a deep field of 33 in their class, but also passed and beat every one of the 19 unlimited Class 1 cars as well. In the process they took advantage of a flawless race in their Chevy Ecotech-powered Alumi Craft to a three-hour advantage over the nearest competition and an astonishing 8th place in the overall four-wheel standings. Simply outstanding.
ROBBY AND MAX GORDON
For decades the powerful persona and behind-the-wheel swagger of Robby Gordon has endeared him to fanatical off-road racing fans up and down the peninsula. There is no doubt Gordon’s 2017 race effort will only add to that fandom.
With Gordon’s father Bob’s passing, it was time for Robby Gordon to become the family patriarch. After qualifying the Baja 1000 in pole position, the bright orange No. 7 Speed Energy Chevy streaked away from the field for several hours before stopping for repairs. Not one to give up, Gordon and co-driver Damon Jeffries did their best to catch eventual overall winner Carlos “Apdaly” Lopez, eventually winding up 16th in class.
But that was not the end of die-hard Gordon’s race, as he turned around and drove back up the highway to meet the No. 2907 Artic Cat UTV. To the amazement of all, he climbed into the co-driver’s seat to navigate another couple hundred miles for his nine (yes, nine!) year-old son Max Gordon. While previous mechanical issues forced their team into lengthy mechanical delays, Robby and Max kept going.
Although it look longer than the 48-hour time limit, the fact they did not post an official finish at the checkered flag didn’t diminish the moment for the youngest driver in Baja history or his emotionally proud father.
Driving a Class 8 GMC, Dave Westhem won his first Baja 1000 way back in 1987. The Trophy-Trucks of that era, the Class 8s were essentially unlimited in their construction with the exception of requiring production frames.
Westhem returned to the Baja 1000 30 years later with a newer Class 8 Chevy, along with longtime teammate Randy Salmont and former Ford Rough Rider John Swift. Relegated by SCORE International to a starting position behind several large and slower classes (the starting position is based on previous year’s results), the race promised to be a battle with passing and endless dust.
Right off the start, that battle became outright warfare. With Swift forced to pull over after less than a mile and lose two hours repairing a faulty driveshaft, the No. 801 Westhem Racing Class 8 became the last vehicle to leave Ensenada. Undaunted, Swift, then Salmont and finally Westhem himself dropped the hammer for the next 29 hours, 39 minutes. Not only did the veteran team overtake a host of cars and motorcycles, they passed all seven of their competitors to claim a class victory by just over eight hours.
It was the race of a lifetime full of them.
BFGOODRICH THE BACKBONE
The BFGoodrich brand has been so covered with Baja’s dust and glory it’s sometimes an understandable mistake to take its influence for granted – but not in 2017.
For starters, the brand managers took the initiative to double-down on their remarkable Baja heritage by stepping up to a title sponsorship for not just this race, but several to come including the 50th SCORE Baja 500. With the off-road tire wars heating up thanks to the advent of Yokohama joining Toyo in the premier Trophy-Truck category, the next few years will be even more intense.
Unlike any other tire company in the sport, however, more significant is BFGoodrich’s philosophy of supporting the greater good and not just a short list of elite athletes. For many race teams, the BFGoodrich pit network is a primary reason they can even think about executing a continuous 1,134-mile point-to-point desert race. Most wouldn’t – or couldn’t.
For 2017 the BFGoodrich Baja 1000 effort included eight remote pits spread down a still remote Baja peninsula staffed by 230 pit members, along with hosting 71 international guests from Australia, England, Ireland, Canada, Germany, Mexico and the United States.
That loyalty has paid off over the years, perhaps none more so than this one. With authentic “Baja Proven” products like the specially created 40″ BFGoodrich Baja T/A KR3, the brand grabbed the top 12 overall positions, claimed 18 total four-wheel class wins and its 29th overall Baja 1000 win since 1986.
Heck, even its new 32″ UTV tire made a winning debut.